Apple has blocked Facebook from distributing a virtual private network that allowed the company to access all mobile and web data -- including photos, emails and browsing activity -- by people who downloaded it, including teens under 18.
The move came soon after TechCrunch reported that Facebook was paying users between the ages of 13 and 35 to download the Facebook Research VPN. Downloaders could earn up to $20 a month plus referral fees, according to TechCrunch. Around 5% of the users reportedly were teenagers.
The research app was similar to Facebook's Onavo Project app, banned by Apple last August. Facebook acquired Onavo in 2013, and has apparently been using the company's technology to collect data since at least 2016.
Apple also rescinded Facebook's ability to distribute apps through Apple's “enterprise” program, which was intended to allow companies to distribute apps within their own organizations.
It's not yet clear how Facebook disclosed its data-gathering practices to users, and whether those disclosures would be viewed as sufficient by regulators. Ten years ago, the Federal Trade Commission prosecuted Sears for paying users to install tracking software on their computers without adequately informing them about the extent to which their data would be collected.
Some lawmakers criticized Facebook over the app Wednesday. Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) urged Facebook to immediately stop recruiting teens to use the research app.
“It is inherently manipulative to offer teens money in exchange for their personal information when younger users don’t have a clear understanding how much data they’re handing over and how sensitive it is,” Markey stated.
He added that he also has concerns over how Facebook disclosed the program to adults. “I am alarmed by reports that Facebook is not providing participants with complete information about the extent of the information that the company can access through this program,” he stated. “Consumers deserve simple and clear explanations of what data is being collected and how it being used.”
Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) also expressed concerns over Facebook's distribution of the app.
On Wednesday, Warner asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a host of questions, including that he thinks users understood they were giving Facebook access to all of their activity.
Facebook hasn't yet responded to MediaPost's questions about the app.